I graduate in a few weeks, and there are times when I worry about the institution that I am leaving behind. I worry for a lot of reasons, but many of my worries boil down to this: our administration uses students instead of serving them.That sounds harsh. I’m not saying this to call out any individuals in administration — everyone I’ve met seems to genuinely care about student needs. But in an office, away from students, it can be too easy to let us become just a group of numbers.
That’s the nature of an institution. Goshen College is not unique in that sense, and I suspect that many college students around the country would feel the same way. When an institution is created, a bureaucracy forms around it to keep the system functioning. That bureaucracy starts to create layers of separation, so that students only interact with a select few staff members, and only occasionally.
As the bureaucracy grows, the institution itself becomes harder and harder to change. I have spent four years here advocating for changes, small and large. I’ve worked with LGBTQ students struggling with discrimination and housing problems, helped students navigate the Title IX process, fought for mandatory trainings on LGBTQ people for students and staff, coordinated events to highlight marginalized voices, and so much more. Most of that time has been spent in emails conversations and meetings with administrators who, I am assured, are listening, but who don’t seem to do much else.
The reality is that, as a student, I hold almost no sway. If I am mad about something, if I want to change something, all the college must do is outlast me — and like I said, I’m graduating soon. Students leave. Students burn out. The institution moves on.
So, what do we do? If I believed administration might drastically change the way they engage with students, I would call for that — but I suspect that an opinion piece in The Record isn’t enough for change like that.
Here’s my advice, to all the students who are mad about injustice on campus: Fight the long fight. Do your research. Read the policies. Get other students involved. Get students younger than you involved, so that your graduation isn’t the end of your work. Find allies among faculty and staff. Use whatever connections you have. Learn how to write a “respectable” email. Don’t exhaust yourself too early. Avoid burning bridges. Find the people who are already doing something. Be persistent.
And, when all of that seems like too much, take a deep breath. It is not your job to fix this college. Get your degree. Graduate. Go out and do good.
That’s what I hope to do. Perhaps someday, when I have married someone rich and have lots of money, I will come back as a donor. Then, maybe, my voice will be heard.